A former All-Ireland club football championship winner has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for stealing an “eye-watering” sum of money as part of a cross-Border gang that used diggers to pull ATMs from walls.
Ms Justice Tara Burns said on Monday at the Special Criminal Court that Daniel O'Callaghan (32) took part in an "audacious" operation on behalf of a "well-oiled" criminal organisation that committed a series of ATM thefts and an attempted theft which was thwarted by gardaí in 2019.
She said O’Callaghan had control over an “eye-watering” sum of stolen money, some €700,000.
Gardaí recouped €429,930 from a premises at Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath, which prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC said is the subject of Criminal Assets Bureau proceedings.
O'Callaghan played a central role, the judge said, as a planner and active member of the gang. She said he contested the charges despite being caught "red-handed" at the scene of an attempted ATM theft in Virginia, Co Cavan.
Three of his accomplices were jailed last week for their roles in the ATM thefts.
Stephen Duffy (35), of Tullynahinera, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, was sentenced to four years imprisonment for possessing stolen cash at The Yard in Tullypole. His brother Gerard Duffy (31), of Loughnamore, Co Monaghan, was jailed for seven years and nine months for the attempted theft of an ATM at the Riverfront Restaurant on Main Street, Virginia.
A third brother, Ciaran Duffy (28), of Loughnamore, Co Monaghan, was sentenced to seven years and nine months for the attempted ATM theft and participating in the movement in cash on behalf of a criminal organisation. All three had pleaded guilty.
O'Callaghan, of Monog Road, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, who won three All-Ireland club medals playing for Crossmaglen Rangers, was convicted after a trial last month of 16 offences relating to the series of ATM thefts in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan in 2018 and 2019.
O’Callaghan had pleaded not guilty to offences under Section 72 and 73 of the Criminal Justice Act.
He was found guilty of the attempted theft of an ATM at the Riverfront Hotel, Main Street, Virginia on August 14th, 2019, for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organisation.
He was also found guilty of the theft of an ATM on Main Street, Castleblayney on April 3rd, 2019. He was found guilty of two charges of participating or contributing to the possession of cash totalling €125,930 intending to facilitate the commission by a criminal organisation or any of its members of a serious offence at Tullypole on August 14th and 20th, 2019.
He was also found guilty of possessing €298,000 at the same location on August 14th, 2019, and of possessing a petrol can intending to use it or cause or permit another to use it to damage a stolen Toyota Landcruiser with false plates in Virginia on August 14th, 2019. In addition, he was convicted of possessing a stolen Landcruiser, a stolen 14-tonne digger and appropriating a digger without the consent of its owner in Virginia.
Finally, he was convicted of being in possession of bolt-cutters with the intent of stealing a 14-tonne digger, with the attempted dishonest appropriation of the ATM in Virginia, and with being in possession of a stolen flatbed trailer all on August 14th, 2019. He was also convicted of causing criminal damage at the ATM in Castleblayney and attempted criminal damage in Virginia.
Ms Justice Burns said O’Callaghan did not get the benefit of a guilty plea but that the court would take into consideration that a number of witnesses were not required to give evidence because he did not contest certain issues.
Setting a headline sentence of 11 years for the most serious offences relating to his involvement in a criminal organisation, Ms Justice Burns said she would suspend the final year having considered the mitigating factors such as his family and community involvement. Sentences for the other offences ranged from three years and six months to eight years and are to run concurrently.
In a judgement last month, the three-judge, non-jury court found that O’Callaghan was “intimately involved” in planning the thefts, which followed a “modus operandi” that was seen in several others carried out by the same gang earlier in 2019 and in late 2018.
The final attempt to steal an ATM was thwarted by gardaí who were watching as the gang drove a digger through Virginia in the early hours on August 14th, 2019. Gardaí saw a stolen Toyota Landcruiser in convoy with the digger.
The Landcruiser was pulling a trailer into which the gang intended to place the ATM before taking it to the premises at Tullypole where the money would be removed. Gardaí later discovered more than €438,000 hidden at various locations and buried in the ground at Tullypole.
Gardaí at Virginia rammed the Landcruiser, prompting O'Callaghan and another man to run from the vehicle while a third man ran from the digger. All three jumped over a wall into a field but before they got away a garda from the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) and another from the Emergency Response Unit identified O'Callaghan. Ms Justice Burns said the court accepted the identification evidence.
She said the identification by the NSU officer was particularly reliable because he had familiarised himself with O’Callaghan over many years as part of his duties in preventing and detecting cross-Border crime.
The officer was just a few feet away from O’Callaghan with a clear view when he made the identification, Ms Justice Burns said.
O’Callaghan’s DNA was also found in a sauna in a nearby shed where O’Callaghan hid while gardaí searched the area and caught two of his accomplices. The owner of the shed told gardaí he suspected an intruder had interfered with the insulation in the shed’s attic. Ms Justice Burns said the DNA evidence provided support for the identification evidence.
Ms Justice Burns said the method used by the gang required careful preparation. They carried out the thefts early in the morning when there were few people or gardaí around. In each case they used a digger to dig the machine out of the wall in an “efficient and skilled manner”.
The gang members were also forensically aware, she said, and occasionally set fire to the vehicles they had used, used “burner” mobile phones and crossed the Border to escape the attention of gardaí.